The Life of St. Teresa of Jesus

Chapter XXIII -The Saint Resumes the History of Her Life. Aiming at Perfection. Means Whereby It May Be Gained. Instructions for Confessors.

1. I shall now return to that point in my life where I broke off, [1] having made, I believe, a longer digression than I need have made, in order that what is still to come may be more clearly understood. Henceforth, it is another and a new book,−−I mean, another and a new life. Hitherto, my life was my own; my life, since I began to explain these methods of prayer, is the life which God lived in me,−−so it seems to me; for I feel it to be impossible that I should have escaped in so short a time from ways and works that were so wicked. May our Lord be praised, who has delivered me from myself!

2. When, then, I began to avoid the occasions of sin, and to give myself more unto prayer, our Lord also began to bestow His graces upon me, as one who desired, so it seemed, that I too should be willing to receive them. His Majesty began to give me most frequently the grace of the prayer of quiet, and very often that of union, which lasted some time. But as, in these days, women have fallen into great delusions and deceits of Satan, [2] I began to be afraid, because the joy and sweetness which I felt were so great, and very often beyond my power to avoid. On the other hand, I felt in myself a very deep conviction that God was with me, especially when I was in prayer. I saw, too, that I grew better and stronger thereby.

3. But if I was a little distracted, I began to be afraid, and to imagine that perhaps it was Satan that suspended my understanding, making me think it to be good, in order to withdraw me from mental prayer, hinder my meditation on the Passion, and debar me the use of my understanding: this seemed to me, who did not comprehend the matter, to be a grievous loss but, as His Majesty was pleased to give me light to offend Him no more, and to understand how much I owed Him, this fear so grew upon me, that it made me seek diligently for spiritual persons with whom I might treat of my state. I had already heard of some; for the Fathers of the Society of Jesus had come hither; [3] and I, though I knew none of them, was greatly attracted by them, merely because I had heard of their way of life and of prayer; but I did not think myself fit to speak to them, or strong enough to obey them; and this made me still more afraid; for to converse with them, and remain what I was, seemed to me somewhat rude.

4. I spent some time in this state, till, after much inward contention and fear, I determined to confer with some spiritual person, to ask him to tell me what that method of prayer was which I was using, and to show me whether I was in error. I was also resolved to do everything I could not to offend God; for the want of courage of which I was conscious, as I said before, [4] made me so timid. Was there ever delusion so great as mine, O my God, when I withdrew from good in order to become good! The devil must lay much stress on this in the beginning of a course of virtue; for I could not overcome my repugnance. He knows that the whole relief of the soul consists in conferring with the friends of God. Hence it was that no time was fixed in which I should resolve to do this. I waited to grow better first, as I did before when I ceased to pray, [5]−−and perhaps I never should have become better; for I had now sunk so deeply into the petty ways of an evil habit,−−I could not convince myself that they were wrong,−−that I needed the help of others, who should hold out a hand to raise me up. Blessed be Thou, O Lord!−−for the first hand outstretched to me was Thine.

5. When I saw that my fear was going so far, it struck me−−because I was making progress in prayer−−that this must be a great blessing, or a very great evil; for I understood perfectly that what had happened was something supernatural, because at times I was unable to withstand it; to have it when I would was also impossible. I thought to myself that there was no help for it, but in keeping my conscience pure, avoiding every occasion even of venial sins; for if it was the work of the Spirit of God, the gain was clear; and if the work of Satan, so long as I strove to please, and did not offend, our Lord, Satan could do me little harm; on the contrary, he must lose in the struggle. Determined on this course, and always praying God to help me, striving also after purity of conscience for some days, I saw that my soul had not strength to go forth alone to a perfection so great. I had certain attachments to trifles, which, though not very wrong in themselves, were yet enough to ruin all.

6. I was told of a learned ecclesiastic, [6] dwelling in this city, whose goodness and pious life our Lord was beginning to make known to the world. I contrived to make his acquaintance through a saintly nobleman [7] living in the same place. This latter is a married man; but his life is so edifying and virtuous, so given to prayer, and so full of charity, that the goodness and perfection of it shine forth in all he does: and most justly so; for many souls have been greatly blessed through him, because of his great gifts, which, though his condition of a layman be a hindrance to him, never lie idle. He is a man of great sense, and very gentle with all people; his conversation is never wearisome, but so sweet and gracious, as well as upright and holy, that he pleases everybody very much with whom he has any relations. He directs it all to the great good of those souls with whom he converses and he seems to have no other end in view but to do all he may be permitted to do for all men, and make them content.

7. This blessed and holy man, then, seems to me, by the pains he took, to have been the beginning of salvation to my soul. His humility in his relations with me makes me wonder; for he had spent, I believe, nearly forty years in prayer,−−it may be two or three years less,−−and all his life was ordered with that perfection which his state admitted. His wife is so great a servant of God, and so full of charity, that nothing is lost to him on her account, [8]−−in short, she was the chosen wife of one who God knew would serve Him so well. Some of their kindred are married to some of mine. Besides, I had also much communication with another great servant of God, married to one of my first cousins.

8. It was thus I contrived that the ecclesiastic I speak of, who was so great a servant of God, and his great friend, should come to speak to me, intending to confess to him, and to take him for my director. When he had brought him to speak to me, I, in the greatest confusion at finding myself in the presence of so holy a man, revealed to him the state of my soul, and my way of prayer. He would not be my confessor; he said that he was very much occupied: and so, indeed, he was. He began with a holy resolution to direct me as if I was strong,−−I ought to have been strong, according to the method of prayer which he saw I used,−−so that I should in nothing offend God. When I saw that he was resolved to make me break off at once with the petty ways I spoke of before, [9] and that I had not the courage to go forth at once in the perfection he required of me, I was distressed; and when I perceived that he ordered the affairs of my soul as if I ought to be perfect at once, I saw that much more care was necessary in my case. In a word, I felt that the means he would have employed were not those by which my soul could be helped onwards; for they were fitted for a soul more perfect than mine; and though the graces I had received from God were very many, I was still at the very beginning in the matter of virtue and of mortification.

9. I believe certainly, if I had only had this ecclesiastic to confer with, that my soul would have made no progress; for the pain it gave me to see that I was not doing−−and, as I thought, could not do−−what he told me, was enough to destroy all hope, and make me abandon the matter altogether. I wonder at times how it was that he, being one who had a particular grace for the direction of beginners in the way of God, was not permitted to understand my case, or to undertake the care of my soul. I see it was all for my greater good, in order that I might know and converse with persons so holy as the members of the Society of Jesus.

10. After this, I arranged with that saintly nobleman that he should come and see me now and then. It shows how deep his humility was; for he consented to converse with a person so wicked as I was. He began his visits, he encouraged me, and told me that I ought not to suppose I could give up everything in one day; God would bring it about by degrees: he himself had for some years been unable to free himself from some very slight imperfections. O humility! what great blessings thou bringest to those in whom thou dwellest, and to them who draw near to those who possess thee! This holy man−−for I think I may justly call him so−−told me of weaknesses of his own, in order to help me. He, in his humility, thought them weaknesses; but, if we consider his state, they were neither faults nor imperfections; yet, in my state, it was a very great fault to be subject to them.

11. I am not saying this without a meaning, though I seem to be enlarging on trifles; but these trifles contribute so much towards the beginning of the soul's progress and its flight upwards, though it has no wings, as they say; and yet no one will believe it who has not had experience of it; but, as I hope in God that your reverence will help many a soul, I speak of it here. My whole salvation depended on his knowing how to treat me, on his humility, on the charity with which he conversed with me, and on his patient endurance of me when he saw that I did not mend my ways at once. He went on discreetly, by degrees showing me how to overcome Satan. My affection for him so grew upon me, that I never was more at ease than on the day I used to see him. I saw him, however, very rarely. When he was long in coming, I used to be very much distressed, thinking that he would not see me because I was so wicked.

12. When he found out my great imperfections, they might well have been sins, though since I conversed with him I am somewhat improved,−−and when I recounted to him, in order to obtain light from him, the great graces which God had bestowed upon me, he told me that these things were inconsistent one with another; that these consolations were given to people who had made great progress, and led mortified lives; that he could not help being very much afraid−−he thought that the evil spirit might have something to do in my case; he would not decide that question, however, but he would have me carefully consider my whole method of prayer, and then tell him of it. That was the difficulty: I did not understand it myself, and so I could tell him nothing of my prayer; for the grace to understand it−−and, understanding it, to describe it−−has only lately been given me of God. This saying of his, together with the fear I was in, distressed me exceedingly, and I cried; for certainly I was anxious to please God, and I could not persuade myself that Satan had anything to do with it. But I was afraid, on account of my great sins, that God might leave me blind, so that I should understand nothing.

13. Looking into books to see if I could find anything there by which I might recognise the prayer I practised, I found in one of them, called the Ascent of the Mount, [10] and in that part of it which relates to the union of the soul with God, all those marks which I had in myself, in that I could not think of anything. This is what I most dwelt on−−that I could think of nothing when I was in prayer. I marked that passage, and gave him the book, that he, and the ecclesiastic mentioned before, [11] saint and servant of God, might consider it, and tell me what I should do. If they thought it right, I would give up that method of prayer altogether; for why should I expose myself to danger, when, at the end of nearly twenty years, during which I had used it, I had gained nothing, but had fallen into a delusion of the devil? It was better for me to give it up. And yet this seemed to me hard; for I had already discovered what my soul would become without prayer. Everything seemed full of trouble. I was like a person in the middle of a river, who, in whatever direction he may turn, fears a still greater danger, and is well−nigh drowned. This is a very great trial, and I have gone through many like it, as I shall show hereafter; [12] and though it does not seem to be of any importance, it will perhaps be advantageous to understand how the spirit is to be tried.

14. And certainly the affliction to be borne is great, and caution is necessary, particularly in the case of women,−−for our weakness is great,−−and much evil may be the result of telling them very distinctly that the devil is busy with them; yea, rather, the matter should be very carefully considered, and they should be removed out of reach of the dangers that may arise. They should be advised to keep things secret; and it is necessary, also, that their secret should be kept. I am speaking of this as one to whom it has been a sore trouble; for some of those with whom I spoke of my prayer did not keep my secret, but, making inquiries one of another, for a good purpose, did me much harm; for they made things known which might well have remained secret, because not intended for every one and it seemed as if I had made them public myself. [13]

15. I believe that our Lord permitted [14] this to be done without sin on their part, in order that I might suffer. I do not say that they revealed anything I discussed with them in confession; still, as they were persons to whom, in my fears, I gave a full account of myself, in order that they might give me light, I thought they ought to have been silent. Nevertheless, I never dared to conceal anything from such persons. My meaning, then, is, that women should be directed with much discretion; their directors should encourage them, and bide the time when our Lord will help them, as He has helped me. If He had not, the greatest harm would have befallen me, for I was in great fear and dread; and as I suffered from disease of the heart, [15] I am astonished that all this did not do me a great deal of harm.

16. Then, when I had given him the book, and told the story of my life and of my sins, the best way I could in general,−−for I was not in confession, because he was a layman; yet I gave him clearly to understand how wicked I was,−−those two servants of God, with great charity and affection, considered what was best for me. When they had made up their minds what to say,−−I was waiting for it in great dread, having begged many persons to pray to God for me, and I too had prayed much during those days,−−the nobleman came to me in great distress, and said that, in the opinion of both, I was deluded by an evil spirit; that the best thing for me to do was to apply to a certain father of the Society of Jesus, who would come to me if I sent for him, saying I had need of him; that I ought, in a general confession, to give him an account of my whole life, and of the state I was in,−−and all with great clearness: God would, in virtue of the Sacrament of Confession, give him more light concerning me; for those fathers were very experienced men in matters of spirituality. Further, I was not to swerve in a single point from the counsels of that father; for I was in great danger, if I had no one to direct me.

17. This answer so alarmed and distressed me, that I knew not what to do−−I did nothing but cry. Being in an oratory in great affliction, not knowing what would become of me, I read in a book−−it seemed as if our Lord had put it into my hands−−that St. Paul said, God is faithful; [16] that He will never permit Satan to deceive those who love Him. This gave me great consolation. I began to prepare for my general confession, and to write out all the evil and all the good: a history of my life, as clearly as I understood it, and knew how to make it, omitting nothing whatever. I remember, when I saw I had written so much evil, and scarcely anything that was good, that I was exceedingly distressed and sorrowful. It pained me, also, that the nuns of the community should see me converse with such holy persons as those of the Society of Jesus; for I was afraid of my own wickedness, and I thought I should be obliged to cease from it, and give up my amusements; and that if I did not do so, I should grow worse: so I persuaded the sacristan and the portress to tell no one of it. This was of little use, after all; for when I was called down there was one at the door, as it happened, who told it to the whole convent. But what difficulties and what terrors Satan troubles them with who would draw near unto God!

18. I communicated the whole state of my soul to that servant of God [17] and he was a great servant of His, and very prudent. He understood all I told him, explained it to me, and encouraged me greatly. He said that all was very evidently the work of the Spirit of God; only it was necessary for me to go back again to my prayer, because I was not well grounded, and had not begun to understand what mortification meant,−−that was true, for I do not think I knew it even by name,−−that I was by no means to give up prayer; on the contrary, I was to do violence to myself in order to practise it, because God had bestowed on me such special graces as made it impossible to say whether it was, or was not, the will of our Lord to do good to many through me. He went further, for he seems to have prophesied of that which our Lord afterwards did with me, and said that I should be very much to blame if I did not correspond with the graces which God bestowed upon me. It seems to me that the Holy Ghost was speaking by his mouth in order to heal my soul, so deep was the impression he made. He made me very much ashamed of myself, and directed me by a way which seemed to change me altogether. What a grand thing it is to understand a soul! He told me to make my prayer every day on some mystery of the Passion, and that I should profit by it, and to fix my thoughts on the Sacred Humanity only, resisting to the utmost of my power those recollections and delights, to which I was not to yield in any way till he gave me further directions in the matter.

19. He left me consoled and fortified: our Lord came to my succour and to his, so that he might understand the state I was in, and how he was to direct me. I made a firm resolution not to swerve from anything he might command me, and to this day I have kept it. Our Lord be praised, who has given me grace to be obedient to my confessors, [18] however imperfectly!−−and they have almost always been those blessed men of the Society of Jesus; though, as I said, I have but imperfectly obeyed them. My soul began to improve visibly, as I am now going to say.

1. At the end of ch. ix. The thirteen chapters interposed between that and this−−the twenty−third−−are a treatise on mystical theology.

2. She refers to Magdalene of the Cross (Reforma de los Descalços, vol. i. lib. i. c. xix. § 2).

3. The college of the Society at Avila was founded in 1555; but some of the Fathers had come thither in 1553 (De la Fuente).

4. Ch. vii. § 37.

5. Ch. xix. §§ 7, 8.

6. Gaspar Daza had formed a society of priests in Avila, and was a very laborious and holy man. It was he who said the first Mass in the monastery of St. Joseph, founded by 5t. Teresa, whom he survived, dying Nov.
24, 1592. He committed the direction of his priests to F. Baltasar Alvarez (Bouix). Juan of Avila acted much in the same way when the Jesuits settled in Avila (De la Fuente).

7. Don Francisco de Salcedo. After the death of his wife, he became a priest, and was chaplain and confessor of the Carmelite nuns of St. Joseph. For twenty years of his married life he attended regularly the theological lectures of the Dominicans, in the house of St. Thomas. His death took place Sept. 12, 1580, when he had been a priest for ten years (St. Teresa's Letters, vol. iv. letter 43, note 13: letter 368, ed. of De la Fuente).

8. Doña Mencia del Aguila (De la Fuente, in a note on letter 10, vol. ii. p. 9, where he corrects himself,−−having previously called her Mencia de Avila).

9. § 4.

10. Subida del Monte Sion, by a Franciscan friar, Bernardino de Laredo (Reforma, vol. i. lib. i. c. xix. § 7).
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11. § 6.

12. See ch. xxv. § 18.

13. See ch. xxviii. § 18.

14. See Relation, vii. § 17.

15. See ch. iv. § 6.

16. 1 Cor. x. 13: "Fidelis autem Deus est, qui non patietur vos tentari supra id quod potestis."

17. F. Juan de Padranos, whom St. Francis de Borja had sent in 1555, with F. Fernando Alvarez del Aguila, to found the house of the Society in Avila (De la Fuente). Ribera, i. 5, says he heard that F. Juan de Padranos gave in part the Exercises of St. Ignatius to the Saint.

18. See Relation, i. § 9.

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